At the finish line of the 2011 Nation’s Triathlon, one of the many gracious volunteers asked me “Are you okay?”
I was bent at the hips, feeling dizzy and clammy. Standing still, but swaying a bit, stomach knotted, ears ringing. My right plantar fascia was seething, and both hands were planted firmly on my knees. I gazed down at blurry pavement, with a heart rate that of a squirrel. A frantic, out-of-shape squirrel.
It’s hard to speak while gasping, so, having no choice, I said nothing. The volunteer patiently waited a bit and then asked me a second time.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes”, I grunted.
Had I not been so short of breath, I would have said more.
I’d have explained to her how it felt to hear the National Anthem at dawn on September 11th, a day that has come to symbolize the pursuit and preservation of American values and ideals.
I would have told her how awesome it was to bike and run with thousands of enthusiastic athletes on a beautiful late summer morning, gliding alongside the Potomac River, cranking through Rock Creek Park and past monuments dedicated to Washington, Lincoln and, most recently, MLK. Churning around Hains Point. Watching the finish line slowly approach.
I would have told her that I was pleased with my bike split. That I almost crashed twice. And that my run really hurt.
I would have told her how proud I was to race in an event benefiting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
I would have explained that, as a pediatrician, I have witnessed up close what happens when unhealthy cells thicken the blood and cake the bone marrow of children. I have seen the hair loss and toxicity that treatment brings. I have seen very sick kids cured…and others.
I would have told her that these children and their families inspire me, and motivate me not only to be a stronger athlete but also a more dedicated professional…and a better, more caring human being.
I’d have tried to articulate how fortunate I feel to be healthy and free on an important day in a prosperous and proud land.
Crouched and panting at the finish line of The 2011 Nation’s Triathlon, I would have told this kind volunteer that I was most definitely okay.